The Shirt Off Your Back

Mark 11: 1-11


What does Palm Sunday mean to you?  Tell you a story today.  Ancient story with a very contemporary meaning. It contains some foundational truths that form the basis of our faith.  This story is developed from all four gospels.  It is filled with symbolism that would have been very familiar to the Jewish people of this time but not so familiar to us. Greatest story ever told. 


The long journey from northern Israel to Jerusalem was coming to an end.  There had been over three years of teaching, preaching, healing, miracles, praying, and leading.  It was time for the finale.  As rounds the bend from Bethany he sees the imposing buildings of the city of Jerusalem. 

The highest and grandest building in the entire city is the temple.  A sacred place.  A place of prayer and sacrifice and commitment.  The center of spiritual life for the average Jew.  The symbol of the presence of God. 


Jesus did something that is recorded no where else in scripture.  He must have walked hundreds of miles but there is no mention of Him ever riding an animal –until now.


He asked his disciples to go into town and find a colt – a young donkey and bring it back for him to ride on it into Jerusalem.  There is significance for a colt was the symbol of a king.  During times of war, the king would enter the city on a stallion and during peace time, it would be a donkey.  A sign of peace.  With this donkey ride, Jesus is saying three things:  


1. I am a king  

How would the people respond to that? Would they recognize that His Kingdom was not of this world - that it was a spiritual kingdom, & He was to be a spiritual King? Small chance, because He had been teaching them that for 3 1/2 years, & still they had not learned that lesson. Their thinking and emotions were so centered on their current distress, they didn’t recognize the long term solution.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            It was not the kingship of a throne but the kingship of the heart that he wanted.


2.  I am the prince of peace.  The one who had come to reconcile all things unto himself.  The one who promised to bring God and man together – to end their estrangement and bring harmony. 

“Peace I give to you, not as the world gives unto you, my peace. Let not your hearts be troubled nor let them be afraid.” 


3.  I am the Messiah   Zechariah chapter 9 said that this would be a sign of the Messiah. One author said it was one of some 332 different old testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled.  Jesus didn’t abolish the law, he fulfilled it.  He gave it new meaning and new depth.  He brought fulfillment to its promises.

So by requesting and riding into Jerusalem on a donkey; Jesus proclaims in a visible way:  I am the King of Peace the Messiah you are looking for. They knew what it meant. 


Vs. 7-8  “placed their cloaks on the donkey”  and a large crowd spread their cloaks on the ground. 

What does that mean? 

One of the most gruesome, hopeless places in nineteenth century England was “debtor’s prison.” Charles Dickens wrote about it, but thousands of England’s poor lived it first-hand. Everything the debtor owned was confiscated. Nothing was left. If any debts still remained, debtors were imprisoned until the balance owed could be paid. Which, of course, could never be, because the debtor was locked up. It was a situation without hope.

1st century Israel had its own version of the debtors prison.  according to Jewish law there were limits on what could be demanded in payment for debts. Everything he had could be taken save one thing. a person’s cloak was considered to be in a category by itself. If it were offered as collateral on a loan, it had to be returned to the occupant by nightfall. A cloak offered warmth and protection. It provided modesty. Most times the only thing under the cloak was a loin cloth. A cloak doubled as clothing and shelter, functioning as covering by day and as a bedroll by night.

Why did they take off their cloaks? To take off your cloak and offer it to someone was a sign of humility and submission.  It was to make yourself vulnerable– willing to do anything for them.  It was to say:  everything I have is yours. Whatever you need.

The people of Jerusalem that day gave Jesus the shirt off their backs. 

The people are moved beyond their own concerns, their own agendas, and wish only to find a way to offer some adequate form of praise to this man who offers them hope and the promise of a different kind of future. they find themselves offering what they have, stripping the very clothes from their backs, in order to somehow show Jesus with their simple, yet sacrificial gesture, the miracle of this moment.

It is a messianic moment. Although Good Friday would demonstrate the depth of the betrayal and rejection he would face, for just a brief, exciting moment Jesus’ own disciples and the crowds offer him their full support.

When is the last time you felt so filled with gratitude for what you have, you offered the shirt off your back?  so concerned for others, or so angered at injustice, that you felt the need to do whatever you could, to give the very shirt off your back if necessary, in order to effect change?

Few weeks ago, a saw a modern day version of this experience:  impact your world   displays set up concerning poverty in our world, the lack of clean drinking water, the injustice of human trafficking, and the chains of abuse that we offered some relief. 

Giving the shirt off your back isn’t about clothing. It is about being willing to do something, “bare your soul,” to sacrifice for the sake of another. The symbolism of this act would have been overwhelming.

The next thing we see is that  The people of Jerusalem waved palm branches in celebration. Vs.8 Why?

The palm branches and the shouts look back a century-and-a-half to the triumph of the Maccabeans and the overthrow of the brutal Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus was the king of Syria from 175-164 b.c.  He was a brutal dictator. He hated the Jews. He made the practice of Judaism forbidden on pain of death, he set up, right smack in the middle of the Jewish temple, an altar to Zeus and sacrificed a pig on it, opened the courts of the temple to sacred prostitution.  Hard to imagine a greater slap in the religious face to good Jews. Stinging from this outrage, an old man of priestly stock named Mattathias rounded up his five sons, all the weapons he could find, and a guerrilla war was launched. Mattathias soon died, but his son Judas Maccabeus kept on and within three years was able to cleanse and to rededicate the desecrated temple. 

Rededicating the temple require that they burn ritual oil in a menorah for 8 days – they discovered only enough oil for one day – they lit it and it lasted 8 days.

That would begin a century of Jewish sovereignty until the Romans took over. In I Maccabees chapter 13 it says  READ vs. 51

The fact they waved palm branches is exactly what they did when the Maccabees overthrew the Syrian oppressors & reestablished worship in the temple.


By waving palm branches they were showing that they expected Jesus to be another general of the armies - one who would lead them to overthrow the Romans. They were saying that they were ready to pick up their swords & shields & go to war if He would lead them!  Palm branches were a sign of deliverance from their oppressors.
It was called the celebration of Hannukah.  As Christians, once again we see Jesus fulfilling the law by delivering us from our enemies.


They shouted Hosanna

Although today we often associate that word with praise – it is actually a cry for help – it means “Save now”

Cry of desperation – people saw this Messiah as the answer to their earthly needs in establishing a nationalistic freedom while Jesus wanted to meet their eternal needs in establishing a forever kingdom.

Vs. 10 the whole city was stirred  what did Jesus see when he looked at the crowd that day? Who was there that day?  Curiosity seekers   Perhaps some of them would greet Him with laughter. Maybe they would be amused by what Jesus was doing. After all, it was a rather ridiculous picture. Here is a carpenter declaring Himself to be a King!

The Sadducees & Pharisees were there. The religious leaders of the day. They were supposed to be keepers of the law, the spiritual leaders. But Jesus had gained so much popularity that they felt threatened. They viewed him with contempt. So, full of jealousy, they watched Him. Sinister faces with squinty eyes, waiting for Him to say one wrong word - to make one mistake.   Luke’s gospel said they told Jesus to quiet the crowd.  Embarrassed by this theological imposter.

Among the crowds would be people whose lives had been touched by Jesus They viewed him with a grateful heart. Some had been among the thousands He had fed. Blind Bartemaeus,  Zachheus, cleansed lepers, Lazarus, Their lives reflected the love that was in their hearts for this man who had taught them, & molded them & changed them.


The Romans were there, fearing revolt & watching for any sign of rebellion against Rome. They were ready & waiting to crush any uprising. They were anxious.

They didn’t care who he was; they just didn’t want any trouble.

The faithful Disciples were there.  Their proudest moment   Peter with his chest puffed out; one hand on his sword just daring anybody to challenge him.

James and John – excited about their place in the new kingdom.


And he wept  Luke 19:41

Day of celebration – victory – adulation why weep?

Jesus saw that the people totally misunderstood him – they would soon reject him. – he loved them and grieved over their refusal to believe him. He knew the needless pain and suffering from going against his will.  He still weeps over the same things today. He wept because of his love for people.


I wonder what He finds when He looks into our faces?